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How to meet customer expectations: Two-speed IT key for insurance company

Customers today expect to interact with companies in whatever way they choose -- whether that's a phone call, a tweet or a text message.

To ensure evolving customer expectations are met, Greg Pfluger, vice president of business systems transformation at American Family Insurance, is investing in and implementing technologies that provide a complete view of when and how the business interacts with its customers.

Pfluger sat down with SearchCIO's Nicole Laskowski at the recent Fusion CEO-CIO Symposium, where he talked about today's insurance customer and how technology is enabling the business to meet customer expectations and provide a better, more seamless experience.

What does the modern American Family Insurance customer expect from your company today?

Greg Pfluger: The modern customer is not a single individual, of course. So when you look at all of our customers across all ages and backgrounds, they expect to be able to work with us whatever way they want to whenever they want to. One of the things that sets American Family apart is our agent as a trusted adviser, and if a customer wants to talk to the agent and get that trusted advice, they should. But if they want to work with us through a call center or work with us online, they need to be able to do that just as well. And all those channels need to work together seamlessly.

How are you helping the business meet customer expectations

Pfluger: The biggest thing we had to do is put a lot of technology in place to make sure we understood the customer across all those channels. Whatever the interactions are with the customer, they're stored in a common database. So if a customer called the call center one day, the agent will see that the next day. If they're doing something online and run into a problem, the call center can pick up and help where they ran into the problem. And all of those channels have to work together seamlessly.

How are you encouraging or supporting your team to move faster, be more agile?

Pfluger: To change the culture, it absolutely has to start at the top of the organization. At American Family, we have just a fantastic visionary CEO in Jack Salzwedel, and he has turned an aphorism on its head. It's frequently said that 'culture eats strategy.' He believes just the opposite -- that our strategy can be enabled by our current culture and by changing the culture to what we want it to be. So Jack talks a lot about the need to be agile and the need to transform the way we do business, and he says the enemies of that are perfection and time. That message from the top really helps when I'm working with IT professionals that maybe are looking for all the reasons something can't be done or trying to design the perfect solution. I can refer back to our CEO's message that it's better to get something out quickly that helps the business, that helps our customers, and not seek a perfect solution that's going to take a lot longer.

Are there trends you're adopting to help your team move faster?

Pfluger: We have experimented with a number of different technologies and trends around Agile methodologies, lean startup. Because we are a highly regulated industry, we also have to balance that against the controls that are required. So frequently, people talk about two-speed IT. That's a concept we very much adopt -- that some of our systems need slower release cycles that need to be very carefully tested; others we can move faster. We can do weekly releases, daily releases, if we have to, and that's the faster-speed IT.

What technology investments have you made to meet customer expectations? 

Pfluger: We've made a lot of different investments. So over the last five years, we've replaced most of our core systems. At the heart of that is a customer master data management system that keeps the customer core data in sync across all our applications. So we always know what business we have with a customer. On top of that is a customer relationship management system, where we record the interactions with our individual customers. Those are the foundation for high-quality customer focus delivery.

Let us know what you think of the story; email Nicole Laskowski, senior news writer, or find her on Twitter @TT_Nicole.

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What technology investments has your company made to create a seamless customer experience?
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My industry - motion picture production - is obsessive about improving the customer experience, no matter the cost. From widescreen to IMAX, from HiFi to Dolby to THX, from Hi Def to 4K and 8K and far beyond, our goal is to engage a notoriously fickle audience.

There seems to be no stopping point for my industry or my company. Every small success demands a bigger & better success for the next move. We do our best to oblige.

Of course this entire exercise is about increasing profits. And if you check the bottom line at the major studios, you'll see we've been wildly successful. Film companies make greater profits solely by providing a better user experience. 
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As my industry is large public sector organizations, I'm yet to see any major investments into this. Typically, the focus is on business functions, not the UX. But some companies invested heavily in customer support to help users navigate through the complexities of their products.
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